Tis the season. Or at least the beginning of the season. The year 2020 is almost out of here. In less than 60 days, the year of coronavirus, lockdowns, civil unrest, depression and uncertainty will be over. Everyone has been affected in some way. For us film critics, it’s heavily due to the closing of most of Hollywood. After The Invisible Man released, the pickings became slim. Yeah, Tenet came out, along with Unhinged, but the majority of the films we expected this year never manifested.
This lull in blockbusters has led to the opportunity for many smaller studios to release their offerings to an entertainment-starved audience. Some have ran with this opportunity and shown that they are worthy contenders. Some have flopped and missed their chances. But I think that this has possibly awakened Hollywood to the fact that they do not have to regurgitate the same movies over and over again. Maybe it will help the studios to “think outside the box” and take chances on some films that may have been off their radar in the past.
The Nights Before Christmas may be one of those that could use some studio love.
This sequel to the 2017 film, Once Upon A Time At Christmas, picks up a year later. The survivors of the Woodridge massacre have tried to move on with their lives. Santa (Simon Phillips) and Mrs. Claus (Sayla de Goede) have been incarcerated for their crimes. Jennifer (Shannon Cotter), the girl at the heart of Santa’s murderous rampage and his daughter, has gone into the witness protection program, fearing that her father may return. Her fears are soon realized, as Santa escapes and begins a killing spree again. However, this time is different, as there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the killings. FBI agent Natalie Parker (Kate Schroder) is tasked with figuring out the clues and putting an end to this horrific holiday.
I am a fan of holiday horror films. I still watch the Silent Night, Deadly Night series of films every single year. Black Christmas is a must see each December, and that includes the incredibly bad remake. ThanksKilling may be low-budget trash, but it has a special place in my heart. And yes, I may be the only one, but Jack Frost is a Christmas mainstay in this house. How did these two films miss my radar?
Without seeing the first film in this series, I kinda felt blind. However, The Nights Before Christmas caught me up pretty quickly. The film even starts out showing Santa’s slaughter, as he escaped the asylum, so I immediately knew how evil he was and what the film had in store. I had some questions about who some of the people were and if they were important to the first film, but the story cleared up many of those questions. So, I applaud the writing of this film, allowing someone like myself to come in with a clean slate and still catch up with what is going on in the film.
There is definitely a comic book inspiration in The Nights Before Christmas. The character of Santa and Mrs. Claus are almost direct clones of The Joker and Harley Quinn. Sayla de Goede’s portrayal of Santa’s wife is almost a dead-to-rights impersonation of the Clown Prince of Crime’s main squeeze. From mannerisms, posture and hairstyle, she is a clone. And that is not exactly a bad thing. Simon Phillips’ Santa may not have the jokes of Batman’s nemesis, but his penchant for brutal violence and his cold, calculating behavior will make any casual comic fan see the similarities. It works in this film, as it could easily be written off that they are imitating aspects of both the Claus couple and the DC Comics villains.
So, what is wrong with The Nights Before Christmas? Very simply, it is lacking polish. The story works, as I mentioned earlier. But it seems to get stuck in a time loop. The same information we have received by watching the film is repeated multiple times during its run. It starts to become slightly boring, since we already know the information and now have to sit in as the character learns it. This is where better writing could have made it more lively and polished off the story, making it much easier to consume. Just a little more work on the lines and The Nights Before Christmas would be an even better film.
I give The Nights Before Christmas three out of five stars. For a holiday slasher flick, it checks all the boxes. Don’t go into the film looking for a deeper understanding than that, or you will be sorely disappointed. You may also want to track down the first film in the series: Once Upon A Time At Christmas. I think catching both of these films back to back will make a great holiday horror night. The Nights Before Christmas releases in December of 2020 on streaming services.